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Hall Director Gives the Gift of Life

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Lindsay Furlong knows too much about cancer. She can name the type her two brothers suffer from—pheocromocytomas—without missing a syllable. That hitting-home connection made the decision easy when she got a phone call this summer saying the results of a cheek swab test she’d had done six years ago had matched someone in need of a bone marrow transplant.

On Sept. 8, Furlong, a residence hall director at Alexander Hall, spend five hours at the Rhode Island Blood Center in Providence hooked up to a machine that filtered her blood, separating out the stem cells and returning the remaining blood through a needle in her other arm. The next day the procedure took four hours. A courier stood by waiting to take the stem cells to wherever the patient was waiting to receive them.
All that Furlong knows of the recipient is that he is 48 years old and suffers from acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that begins inside bone marrow, the soft tissue in bones that makes new blood cells.

Six years ago, Furlong was a student at Western New England College in Massachusetts studying communication and psychology. When she heard that a bone marrow drive was taking place, she got tested. And, after a time when she didn’t hear anything back, she forgot about it.

“I was shocked when they called. I had kind of forgotten I’d done it,” Furlong says, adding “When I found out I was a match, there was no way I could have said no. I wasn’t able to help my brothers (who are both doing well) so I’m really thankful I could do this.”

After the phone call, Furlong had blood work done to see if she was enough of a match. She was. Next came a physical to make sure she was healthy enough to donate.

For five days before the donation process began, Furlong had daily injections of the drug Neupogen to boost her immune system.

“That was the hardest part. It makes your bones and muscles and joints ache. I was in a lot of pain leading up to the procedure,” she says. “They told me the symptoms were a good thing because it meant the medicine was working.”

Thursday, the first day of donation, was the more uncomfortable of the two. She was achy. Her hips hurt. She had a headache. Her white blood count was above 50; 5 to 10 is average. Friday was better, in part, she says, because the Neupogen was working its way out of her system and because she didn’t have the anticipation she’d had the day before.

But it wasn’t that bad, she says quickly. And she would do it again.

“At the end of the day, what I went through is nothing like what the patient is, and will continue to go through. His battle is just getting started,” Furlong says. “I’m glad it’s over but I’m more glad I did it.”

The only sign that she has gone through the procedure is a lingering fatigue that she figures will be gone soon. She was told to avoid contact sports or anything that might result in bruising until her platelet count—down to 82 on the second day of donating—returns to the normal range of 150 to 450.

Furlong receives daily inspirational quotes via e-mail. During the blood filtering process, she couldn’t move her extended left arm but was free to move her right one as long as she kept it high. On the last day, when she had about an hour left to go, she checked her e-mail on her cell phone and read this quote:

“Believe that there's light at the end of the tunnel. Believe that you might be that light for someone else.” -Kobi Yamada.

“I had the chills after I read that,” Furlong says. “It was such a reminder that it was so worthwhile. And that everything is connected.”

Furlong and the recipient of her bone marrow can communicate anonymously through the Caitlin Raymond International Registry and the center where he receives the transplant. In five years, if they both agree, they can contact one another. Furlong thinks she would like that.

“Forty-eight; that’s still young. My friends said, ‘He’s probably a dad. You’re probably saving his life for his kids,’’’ Furlong says. “At this point, I’m just praying his body receives the stem cells.”

And if that happens, then the words of a nurse who was with Furlong during the donation process will have even more meaning. She said, “At Christmas you can drink to the fact that you gave the gift of life.”